A few years ago I had the distinct privilege of playing o the same ice hockey team as one Chuck Podgurski. Now Chuck, being a Yankee of New York origins, and myself, being a good ol’ Southern boy, you might not think we would share a love of the game of ice hockey, but we did and we were teammates.
Chuck was the classic stay-at-home defenseman and I played both goalie and skated as a right-wing. I learned a lot about the game from Chuck and enjoyed his tales of hockey games past. Chuck was not what one would call a “tough guy” or a fighter, although he could more than handle his own when it came to the rough stuff. He just preferred to play a solid defensive game. I, on the other hand, was not the most skilled forward on the team, but I could put the puck in the net and when someone tried giving my teammates a hard time, well, I didn’t mind dropping the gloves in their defense.
On the occasion I am writing about our team, B5, yes, that was the name we went by, as we were listed as team number 5 in the B division, was playing our first playoff game of the season. We were playing a team that we had dealt with quite handily throughout the regular season, but, hockey being the kind of game it is, if you don’t play your best any team can beat you. On this night the opponent was taking it to us. There were a couple of guys in particular who were really getting under our skin. They were playing a rougher than usual, hard fore-checking game and they were making especially difficult for Chuck to move the puck out of our end of the ice. This was a strong part of Chuck’s game and he was getting obviously frustrated by the constant bumping, stick-checking, and annoying play and chatter.
At some point in the third period, as we were trying our best to mount a comeback, Chuck had reached his limit with one player in particular. I did not see what precipitated the incident, but Chuck was squared off with the guy and they were both yapping at each other pretty good. You know, “Why I oughta!” “Oh yeah, you and what army?” Back and forth they went as Chuck kept skating at the guy and pushing him toward his own bench. As the opposing player neared his bench he stopped short and squared off with Chuck. We all anticipated that gloves were going to drop soon. Apparently the opposing team thought so as well, because about 4-5 of them started coming over the bench onto the ice to “back up” their player. It now looked like Chuck vs. about 6 other guys.
Chuck puffed himself up as big as he could and challenged them to put up or shut up. As Chuck edged forward, toward the opposing players, they all stopped abruptly, looked at each other, in that quizzical fashion that some people do, when they are unsure of something, and turned around and went back to their bench. Chuck stood there for a moment, staring at them and issuing another challenge. When it was obvious that they were not going to take him up on his challenge Chuck turned around and skated back to our bench with what can only be described as a s*** -eating grin on his face. “You guys see how they backed down? They knew I was going to kick someone’s a**!
We all nodded in agreement and gave Chuck a congratulatory pat on the back, while trying to hide our laughter. What Chuck didn’t know at the time, since he had his back to our bench, was that me, Mike Mellinger, Pat deFur, and about 5 other teammates were coming over our bench to come to Chuck’s aid. When the opposing team looked up and saw us coming they backed away. When we saw that they were going back to their bench we returned to ours, without Chuck even noticing that we had been there. We lost the game, much to our chagrin, but as with all beer league hockey we got over it pretty quickly. In the locker room Chuck was regaling us with the story of how the eyes of the other team got really big when he stepped up to challenge them. It was then that we took the wind out of Chuck’s sails and let him know that what he thought was his imposing figure was actually half of his team skating up behind him. I think he still prefers to believe that they were scared of him alone. ;)
Those were wonderful days of the not too distant past. Playing hockey with a great bunch of guys and making lifelong friends. I count myself fortunate to have made such friends as Chuck Podgurski.